What happened to the Chinese football revolution?

Just a few years ago, it was believed China would become the new football superpower. The country, in an attempt to improve its poor national side, attempted to lure top players from around the world to its domestic league, the Chinese Super League thanks to the riches at each club’s disposal. Now, 10 years after the initial rise and fear of clubs in the west over Chinese football spending, it appears the revolution is dead.

The latest nail in the coffin of Chinese Super League football came on Monday, March 1, when reigning champions Jiangsu FC ceased operations. The demise of the club came just three months after winning their first league title. Jiangsu FC owners Suning also own Inter Milan, who could also suffer financial problems going forward. According to reports, the club are in debt to the tune of $90 million. There is hope that a new set of investors will come along and take over the club and bring it back from the dead. However, there is no guarantee that will occur.

In May 2020, 11 Chinese football clubs were disqualified from competing due to “financial problems”. Chinese football has long had a “boom and bust” nature. Prior to the hope created by the Chinese Super League, China’s top football division had been damaged by betting scandals.

Western football clubs and media expected big-spending Chinese clubs to attract the best players from Europe. This never happened as many of the players lured to China were either past their prime or unable to play for top clubs in Europe.

Two of the biggest problems leading to Chinese clubs going out of business — in May 2020, five clubs went out of business — have been low attendances and massive contracts for overseas players. The contracts have weighed down teams in a country where football isn’t the top sport. The push to grow the sport in China may not be over. Even before football was halted due to the coronavirus, football clubs were suffering in China. The COVID-19 pandemic has only caused more problems.

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